Countries that are not independent states are often called dependencies or territories as in “French Polynesia is a devolved parliamentary dependency”.

In the context in which I am using the word, it would be inappropriate to use the word “colonizer” to refer to the country of which the dependency is a territory. I'm thus looking for a word that captures the country that has territorial control over the dependency that is less politically charged. I do, of course, recognize that this is a politically charged subject but where I am using the term it must be as neutral as possible.

Ideally, the term should be one word and it should apply to both current dependencies and to former colonies. In a sense, it should be exactly like the word “colonizer”, but without the historical connotations.

Edit: Ideally, I'm looking for a single word. The way it would be used is to indicate the name of a dataset column, which indicates the name of the former colonizer for territories that have gained independence and the name of the country exercising control over the territory if the territory is not an independent state. An example of the former is the United Kingdom to Australia and an example of the latter is France to New Caledonia. Note, that I do not consider New Caledonia to be a colony of France (largely because a majority rejected independence in a referendum and extensive self-governance), although I do recognize that this is a contested classification.

  • Why is it 'politically charged' to call a colony 'a colony'? Apr 14, 2021 at 18:47
  • @MichaelHarvey, it isn't. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my request. I'm looking for a term that is general enough to encompass colonizers in the exploitative, historical sense, as well as countries exercising control over a non-sovereign territory that may or may not fit the criteria of a colony.
    – Tea Tree
    Apr 14, 2021 at 18:51
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    This sounds like asking for a term for sea without the watery connection. Apr 14, 2021 at 19:00
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    @TeaTree If you are looking for a single-word-request..."This tag is for questions seeking a single word that fits a meaning. To ensure that your question is not closed as off-topic, please be specific about the intended use of the word. INCLUDE A SAMPLE SENTENCE demonstrating how the word would be used." Apr 14, 2021 at 19:23
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    @TeaTree How would it go over if you were to simply use "Sovereign" as the column label?
    – cruthers
    Apr 20, 2021 at 0:29

2 Answers 2


Perhaps Suzerain is what you're looking for:

When one country controls most of another country's affairs while still allowing it some autonomy, the dominant country is called a suzerain.

In modern world affairs, suzerains are unusual, but history includes a number of them. For example, the Ottoman Empire was the suzerain in its relationships with Moldova, the principality of Serbia, and Wallachia, and for years China was a suzerain to Mongolia.


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    This by no means covers all colonisers. Apr 14, 2021 at 18:58
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    The dictionary definitions of that word tend to leave it unspecified exactly how much control is exercised by the suzerain and exactly how much autonomy the dependent political entity has, which makes the word appear well suited to the OP's purposes. What, however, makes it not so well suited to these purposes is that its actual use has strongly associated it with particular historical arrangements, which makes it sound odd to use it for others (even if so using it would accord with the dictionary definitions).
    – jsw29
    Apr 18, 2021 at 16:15

"Dominion" works. From Latin "domus" meaning master or lord.

If you are using as a column title, it would be flexible enough to encompass everything you require, unusual enough not to trigger anyone, yet convey the precise meaning you want.

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    The problem with "dominion" is that historically it has been used for a self-governing territory within the British Empire/Commonwealth, which would contradict the idea of a dominion as a territory ruling others en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion
    – Stuart F
    Apr 27, 2021 at 14:53
  • But the word "dominion" also means an area marked off by outside influence or administration. As a column header it would explain the relationship of France to New Caledonia, Great Britain to Canada, and the US to Nebraska, the US to Puerto Rico, the US to the District of Columbia, and the US to the Northern Marianas Islands. Anyway, that's what I would use.
    – CWill
    Apr 27, 2021 at 18:27

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